A Time to Help

UM responds quickly to devastating earthquake in Haiti

Team of Volunteers

Since January 13, teams of volunteers have been providing critical care to earthquake survivors.

Kristina Rosales was among a handful of University of Miami students helping to create community centers in the Port-au-Prince shantytown of Cité Soleil when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake pulverized much of Haiti in mere seconds on January 12.

“Fortunately, we were safe inside a car and did not get hit by any buildings,” Rosales wrote days later in a letter to The New York Times. She pleaded for more help for victims in “marginalized communities” like Cité Soleil.

Within 24 hours of the catastrophe, President Donna E. Shalala sent a University-wide communication about plans to help victims and coordinate the safe return of students and faculty who were in Haiti for UM winter intersession courses. Also on January 13, a medical team led by Barth Green, Miller School professor and chair of neurological surgery, arrived with desperately needed supplies, equipment, and expertise. As co-founder of Project Medishare, an initiative dedicated to improving the health of Haitians since 1995, Green was able to establish an urgent care center on the Port-au-Prince airfield within minutes of landing. There he and personnel from the University of Miami Miller School and Jackson Memorial Hospital immediately began treating patients with crushed limbs, spinal injuries, and gaping wounds. In those critical first days, they managed to see 250 of the most severe cases and prepare for their transport.

Team of VolunteersFour air-conditioned tents arrived soon after, donated by retired Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and UM Trustee Stuart Miller, J.D. ’82. They enabled the University to set up a 240-bed temporary hospital with four operating rooms and advanced technology. Still, making do with scant resources remained the norm. Creative staffers, for example, devised a makeshift incubator for a premature newborn out of military Meals-Ready-to-Eat pouches, designed to warm food via a contained chemical reaction.

In the first month, the University reported treating more than 2,000 survivors, while hundreds of health care professionals had participated in round-the-clock rotations, and more than 700 internal and external volunteers were signed up to provide relief staffing. Green also mobilized a team of Miami spinal cord injury specialists to treat patients.

In a Miami Herald column, Project Medishare co-founder Arthur Fournier, Miller School associate dean of community health affairs and professor and vice chair of family medicine, described the multiple rib fractures and fractured skull of a 10-week-old baby rescued from the rubble. She was “beyond death’s doorstep,” he wrote. Still, he convinced a cargo pilot to transport her to Miami, where she made a remarkable recovery at Jackson Memorial Hospital. “Such a defiance of odds must have meaning for us all,” he concluded. “Easily given up for dead, she came back. So will Haiti.”